The Subversive Power of Queer-ish Identity
Late September in East Rock. A friend and I sat in the grass, waiting for our Uber after our descent left us on the opposite side of the park. As I reclined, absorbing the late afternoon sun, my friend looked up from the grass and asked “Can I tell you something?” Naturally, I responded, “Of course, you can tell me anything.”
“I think I’m bi” she gently announced. She previously identified as straight and has been in a long-term relationship with a male partner.
Since this proclamation, my friend has maintained her existing relationship while gradually exploring her identity.
Similarly, I have incrementally realized that I do not entirely identify as male, and I often reconcile with my outward presentation; I often present myself to be more masculine than I feel internally. Yet despite my androgynous modulations, I identify largely as a cis-gender, gay male–two discernable identities.
Through my friend’s exploration of her sexuality while operating within a heterosexual relationship and my gender variation while predominately identifying in a cis-gender manner, we fall under the category of ‘queer-ish.’
In a recent cultural and linguistical turn, ‘queer’ serves as a grandiose umbrella for anyone who identifies as not-cis and/or not-straight. But, what does it mean for society to be accepting enough of alternative identities where individuals can identify or operate in a way that is queer-ish? Here, I define queer-ish as individuals who can, may, or do operate within the existing cis/heteronormative infrastructure and societal architecture while embracing a loose and transient connection to the queer community or tenets of being queer.
The subversive nature of queer-ish identity renders it a powerful tool to transform our existing architecture, both social and spatial. Similar to José Muñoz’s notion of ‘disidentification’ where queer individuals engage in subversive tactics and transform existing infrastructure and frameworks rather than aligning with or rejecting these exclusionary institutions, queer-ish identity operates under the skin of our existing institutions, yet manifests in a more nuanced expression than disidentification.1 While disidentification is an explicit, active strategy of survival employed by marginalized and minority individuals, queer-ish identity permeates through its inconspicuous nature, only bubbling when the individual employs it or another individual has the acumen to perceive it. Where the practice of disidentification may work, for example, within the stereotypes of butch-lesbianism to create a flourishing community, queer-ish identity may emerge as a lesbian woman flirting with a male gender presentation; a trans man choosing to adopt feminine mannerisms; a newly bisexual woman gradually realizing her identity while in a heterosexual relation, with no current intention to act on her bisexuality.
Yet with the subversions of stereotypes, societal infrastructure, and gender/sexual expectations, queer-ish identity may not produce, on the surface, any identifiable alteration of cultural infrastructure. However, through the pervasive proliferation of queer-ish identity in contemporary culture, slight ripples, slight creases in the social fabric aggregate into an incessant quivering slightly below the framework: like walking into a room you know well, except all of the furniture has been turned 15 degrees clockwise. Over time, the ripples facilitated by queer-ish identity capture a sub-community in itself. What once served as a margin of a marginal community becomes a vital underground network churning just below the surface.
Queer-ish possesses potent subversion, leaving us grappling with how the sedition of our societal architecture transforms our cis/heteronormatively predicated physical spaces. Ultimately, queer-ish will gradually transform our spaces into mimetic arenas of fluidity.
As a whole, cities are queer-ish. The transience, fluidity, rapidity of cities all bubble below the surface, constantly re-inventing, rejecting, obscuring one full identity. But I argue that cities acquired this identity from queer-ish individuals: a city of static, homogenous individuals would contain no nuance, nothing to recreate.
This identity recently permeated into the design of restrooms that have evolved from static, to queer, to queer-ish. Works by queer activists transformed public restrooms into spaces mirroring personal identity, but recent works shattered the rigid reflection of identity and created fluid spaces of expression. Similar to the transience of cities, Stalled! by Joel Sanders, Susan Stryker, and Terry Kogan subverts the private nature of public restrooms and creates an agoric space of varying degrees of privacy.2
Where disidentification may create a flourishing community–a mystic locale or a cruising spot–within the existing restroom architecture, queer-ish identity gradually transforms the space into a fluid realm while preserving the infrastructure.
Amalgamating the queer-ish identites of cities with the case-study of Stalled!, we have a telescopic framework for exploring queer-ish. The nuanced manifestations of queer-ish identity–the various unsettlings–combined with its scales of implementation render it a disruptive tool in reclaiming and transforming spaces. Whether altering an urbanism, a restroom, or (one day) the cis/heteronormativity of suburbia, the proliferation and subsequent reverberations of queer-ish identity will subvert our existing perceptions and productions of architecture.